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Around the Florida National Guard

News | Feb. 1, 2024

3/20th holds Special Forces Conditioning and Preparation at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center

By Sgt. Spencer Rhodes 107th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Following December’s Special Forces Readiness Evaluation, candidates from all over the country traveled back January 25th-28th for the second phase: Special Forces Conditioning and Preparation. There are multiple areas of participation that candidates must participate in before being chosen for National Guard Special Forces. SFCP is considered phase two; while significantly different in focus, it provides a different kind of challenge equal to SFRE's.

The event itself, as described by Staff Sgt. Hendry, a 3rd Battalion, 20th Group Special Forces Soldier, is a three-day event designed to test candidates already selected through the Special Forces Readiness Evaluation [SFRE]. It consists of time gates, including rucks, runs, and the army's physical fitness test. The primary focus of this weekend is land navigation.
"The land navigation is crucial to get in as many reps as possible, so I'm grateful to be able to come down here and do this," said Andrew Kewkle.

Kewkle, a Grand Rapids, Michigan firefighter, heard from a recruiter that these courses were offered in Florida, something not offered in many places in the country, and jumped at the opportunity to fly down and participate. Unlike a few of the other candidates, he's already signed an 18X contract. While that does not guarantee he will pass the official three-week SFAS at Fort Liberty, it ensures he can go through the prerequisites like infantry and airborne training on his way there. Kewkle has yet to go to basic training and says he wants to get as many rounds in as possible.

"It's helped me immensely, it's shown me weaknesses physically, and my strengths physically and what I need to work on, and just learning about the job of special forces. There's no better way to learn than be around the people who do it every day," said Kewkle.

It is easy to get the two phases confused or why they are significant, and the army is never lacking in acronyms, like SFRE or SFCP. When describing the difference between December's Special Forces Readiness Evaluation event and January's Special Forces Conditioning and Preparation, Sgt. 1st Class Oteri, a cadre member with 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group says this one is more about mentorship than the pressurized environment created by SFRE. Historically, land navigation is one of the most complex parts of Army Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) and is the reason for SFCP's primary focus.

"The biggest difference between both the phases, SFRE and SFCP that we offer here in Florida is that the SFCP portion, which we're currently at, is more of a mentorship to the candidates," said Oteri. "They've proven to us that they have what it takes to pass phase one. They've now had the courage to show up and return to phase two and receive some one-on-one training on some difficult skillsets, to include land navigation."

Showing up is a trait that already gains a modicum of respect in the eyes of the cadre. For those on the fence, Kewkle strongly believes it's worth doing.

"Definitely do it, it's not comfortable. Pushing yourself and growing never is, but it's an incredible opportunity. You get to see what the inside of the National Guard Special Forces is, you get to meet some of the cadre, establish relationships with them, and really get a foot in the door to see what the future career could be like you," says Kewkle.

A sentiment mirrored by Oteri, who believes it cannot be emphasized enough.

"Come and try out. We've said it a thousand times to every class who has come through here that actually show up to the first formation. We say 'congratulations, you've had the courage to do what a lot of people won't even do which is: show up," said Oteri.

Make no mistake, SFCP may focus on a more approachable mentorship; however, the event remains extremely difficult, and some still quit after making it to the second phase.

"This course is, in essence, a mini selection event that's done every weekend that a candidate shows up prior to them having the chance to attend the Special Forces Assessment and Selection course. It's an opportunity to break down the main points of failure that occur in special forces assessment selection [SFAS] into small manageable tasks so that the soldier can learn and practice over and over again, as well as get used to being comfortable being uncomfortable," says Hendry. "The most difficult part about the Special Forces Conditioning Preparation weekend is probably learning, and then putting to use new information while being physically tired and possibly hungry. So, the back-to-back nature of learning land navigation immediately following a ruck, and putting that into practice and immediately waking up for another tested event in the morning."
"The instructors do a phenomenal job in the classroom of going over everything, and then teaching you the crawl-walk-run method. They take you out, they walk you through the course, and then they send you out on your own to do it in the daytime and the nighttime," says Kewkle.

As the weekend moves through the afternoon and nighttime, each candidate is seen going through different phases of success and mental resilience. Sometimes, returning with the land navigation points required during the daytime, only to flounder during the nighttime. Throughout the process, the cadre provides reminders on troubleshooting and general but firm encouragement. Ultimately, however, the success relies solely on candidates' shoulders to navigate with the flashlight, physical map, and compass while traversing Camp Blanding terrain at night with a fully loaded rucksack.

In terms of what's most important for candidates to bring out of this training, there is a common sentiment shared among various cadres: learning to know themselves and build their confidence. The course is one of the last interactions they will likely have before attending SFAS.

"What I think candidates need to take away from this is a combination of confidence and competence. There is a quote from an author that I like that says: 'Confidence isn't obtained by shouting affirmations in the mirror but building a stack of proof that you are who you say you are,' and these candidates are building a stack of proof that they are an asset to the regiment," says Hendry.